“I’m drowning,” I replied to his inquiry about how things are going.
He looked at me, his expression neutral, then shrugged. "You ain't drowned."
Not quite the response I was expecting. For over a week I had been functioning on minimal sleep and time. My days were filled with 3 hour long classes, study group sessions, club presentations, training sessions, and forced networking. I was exhausted and overwhelmed and staring down an additional eight hours in a day that already had the first eight in the bag. I thought I would find a moment of solace from the sympathetic ear of a second year MBA. Not so much. But upon second thought maybe his words weren't really dismissive, but rather encouragement. Was he telling me that struggling against an undertow is still better than being on the bottom of the ocean? Right now I am not so sure.
Classes started five weeks ago. I was lucky to start the quarter off right with a visit from the respiratory infection that was working it's way through Harper Center. According to my roommate I looked like shit. The congestion and sore throat left me sounding like a chain smoking tranny. By day three a chronic cough joined the party. The box of Puffs plus I carried with me everywhere completed my picture of health. Unfortunately,there's no time for recuperation in business school. Classes go on and homework is due even when you're puking up chicken parm. It took almost two weeks, but I did manage to excoriate myself from death's clutches only to run headlong into the abyss that is Booth student groups.
Everyone knows about FOMO. It's the fear of missing out. It leads people down rabbit holes that they normally wouldn't go simply because everyone else is doing it and they are afraid they will miss something. I honestly thought that I was immune to this and for the most part I am. I know exactly what I want to do after business school so I don't have to explore what's out there. My issue isn't FOMO. It's more insidious. I can easily say no to a Lunch N Learn about Investment Management, even if free lunch is being served (leftovers are easily scavenged anyways). IM isn't my thing and I don't need to sit through a panel discussion just to make sure it isn't. I am not missing anything. My problem is that there is a ton of activities and events at Booth that are my thing. Thus far I have joined Chicago Women in Business, African American MBA Association, Net Impact, Dean's Student Admissions Committee, Christians in Business, Chicago African Business Group, and Media, Entertainment, and Sports Group. I just signed up for Giving Something Back, am contemplating purchasing an Epicurean Club membership, want to get involved with the Follies production, and am considering doing an international development consulting project next quarter. All of this is in addition to being the screenwriter for my cohort's Golden Gargoyles movie and competing in the Leadership Challenge case competition. I even signed up to attend a Net Impact conference at Kellogg in two weeks.
Why have I taken on so much? I swear I am not crazy (well not completely). Student groups aren't really optional. If you're going to search for summer internships and full-time employment the student groups are often the first line of recruiting. Many events are members only. If I want to interact with my target companies I need join the clubs. Club membership also directly impacts the quality of your resume. You want to make the switch from accounting to doing marketing for the NFL, but there's nothing on your resume to suggest that you even know what a touchdown is? Then you better be in the Media, Entertainment, and Sports group to show that you have some sort of interest in this area. Even better than being a member is holding a leadership position. But guess what? You can't hold a leadership position without first being an active member in your first year. Being an active member requires consistent event attendance and volunteering wherever there's a need.
So why don't I just choose one or two activities to be really involved in and just fall back on the others? I would love to. The problem is that my career goals are more function than industry specific. I can do what I want to do in professional sports just as easily as I could in the financial services industry. My target companies are quite disparate but if I want a shot at any of them I have to participate in activities for all of them. That explains my membership in MESG and Net Impact. The other groups I either feel a personal affinity to or am just really interested in. Dean's Student Admissions Committee is the road to being an Admissions Fellow in my second year. I really want to be on the admissions committee and help shape the class of 2016. That means spending 3-4 hours a week devoted to DSAC activities. My competitive streak led me to fight for Phoenix cohort pride in this year's Golden Gargoyles competition. It's funny. When cohort elections were happening I chose not to run for Film Chair because I didn't want to take on the time commitment. I figured that if I was just on the production team then I'd have plenty of time to pursue all of my other interests. Ahh, the best laid plans. Writing and filming our cohort film has definitely taken up more hours than anything else.
On top of the time commitment the majority of my student groups also came with a price tag. You can purchase a one year or discounted two year membership. Although the two year membership costs more up front it saves money in the long run. Still, I had to ask myself, "Will I want or need to be a member of this organization next year?" In the case of African American MBA Association I sprung for the two year membership because I'll still be Black next year so I might as well. My impression is that the dues pay for themselves because members get free entry to most events and conferences. We shall see how long it takes me to recoup my investments.
I don't know if I am more busy now than I was when I was working. However, I feel as though I have more places to be. At work my busyness was fixed in one location most of the time. At Booth I feel like I'm running all over the place like a chicken with its head cut off while lugging a 15lb backpack with me. I always feel like I'm running 10 minutes late. It's overwhelming because I fear I'm going to drop one of the many balls I have in the air. I cross one commitment off the list only to add two more.
This lifestyle doesn't feel sustainable. However, it does feel oddly satisfying. In all honesty I am doing this to myself because I want to. I'm enjoying taking prospective students on Harper Center tours. I just saw a clip of our cohort movie and it's hilarious (we are so gonna win). Last week's Net Impact conference just reinforced my desire to pursue a career in social impact. And I cannot forget all of the free food I've eaten because of all the co-curricular activities. I go to sleep and dream of boxed lunches. Thus far I have made it through five weeks of school without a meltdown. Maybe that second year was right. The feeling of drowning is probably much better than the alternative. Sure, it would be nice to just float along but that's not really an option. If I can complain then that must mean that even with tidal waves crashing around me my head is above water. Since I'm still alive, is that a sign that I should sign up for the ski trip?